SALT LAKE CITY — Upon entering the theatre to attend The Little Prince, I was met with warm, Edison-style light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and instrumental French music playing in the background. The shadows behind the backlit sheet moved to the music, already enchanting me. I enjoyed the mood that was set, paying tribute to the original French story that has now been translated into 300 languages and dialects. While I had heard of The Little Prince since childhood, I myself was unfamiliar with the story. I am delighted that Sackerson was my introduction to the beloved tale.
Adapted from the 1943 novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Sackerson’s stage production of The Little Prince is written by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar. The play closely follows the novella, which tells the story of a Prince from an unnamed planet. The Prince visits Earth, and meets an Aviator that is stranded in the desert, working to fix his plane. The story is philosophical in nature, exploring the human condition and how this can be affected by relationships. The Prince recounts his many stories to the Aviator, befriending him, and the two learn from each other in the most valuable of ways.
The acting from the small, four-person cast was admirable. Even though there were non-human and archetypal characters, nothing was exaggerated, as is so often the case with such characters. Instead, the actors played their roles with an honest earnestness that was refreshing to see. As the Little Prince, McKenzie Steele Foster is captivating as a storyteller. She made me want to listen to all of her stories, and it was a joy to see them acted out on stage. Foster creates a magical quality about her, finding intense enjoyment in small things and an innocence in others. As with the character she is playing, Foster’s greatest trait seems to be bringing out the same magic and childhood wonder in her castmates. The chemistry she has with all of the other actors was natural and genuine, resulting in realistic friendships and connections among characters. My favorite relationship was with the Fox, played by Shawn Saunders. Saunders is exceptional as the Fox, emphasizing the animalistic parts of his character, while also relating on a human level. The scenes where the Prince tames the Fox are simply adorable, and it is special to see the two create a sincere bond that makes them uniquely tied to each other, separating them from other average men and foxes. Saunders also provides most of the noteworthy humor in the production.
Amy Ware plays both the Rose and the Snake, and is equally fantastic in both roles. As the Snake, Ware makes her character known by moving fascinatingly, twisting her body in ways I imagine only a skilled dancer familiar with their own body could achieve. As the Rose, Ware communicates an expression of love and loss that is poignant. Last but not least, Alex Ungerman as the Aviator is similarly excellent. Watching Ungerman take on his journey within the play from start to finish was inspiring. Contrasting moments of an adult and a child-like nature, the Aviator learns from the Prince the importance of keeping imagination alive and finding beauty in one’s surroundings. Because Ungerman depicted the Aviator’s feelings and motives so clearly, I felt swept up in the lessons he was learning as well. It is through all of the cast’s passionate acting that the theme of companionship rings true.
Dave Mortensen’s direction facilitated the success of the production, with every element fitting into place perfectly with each other. The small space was used to its potential so that every visual image on stage was interesting and provocative. Mortensen and Ungerman also created the scenic and lighting design. The most distinguished aspect of the set was the flat black paint that was used to draw chalk images on. These drawings, done by the actors in real time, was an effective and intriguing technique. I was told that these drawings were actually copies of the original illustrations from Saint-Exupéry’s novella, making them that much more exciting. The lighting design was also remarkable, emphasizing the mood of each scene clearly while maintaining a simplicity that was straightforward. The backdrop that was used to create shadows behind it was also a nice touch. I especially loved the music in the production, written and played live by Brooke Bolick on her cello. Bolick’s music perfectly underscores the action of the play and emphasizes the emotion. (I am particularly fond of cello music as well, so this was an even nicer treat for me.)
While I can sometimes be dense about dance and movement, I greatly appreciated Brown’s choreography. The use of movement and dance adds to the piece immensely, and I could not have asked for a better balance between the play’s speaking and movement. The choreography is stunning and evocative, communicating the feelings and emotions of the characters. I enjoyed how this technique was used to depict past memories, and to show what the actors are describing to create the scene. There were many simple and small movements that occurred throughout, but they nonetheless stood out to me because of the meaning I could find in them.
Clearly, I have nothing negative to say about Sackerson’s The Little Prince. What I was most struck by was the simplicity of the show. Nothing was done extravagantly, yet all aspects of the show were brought to life elegantly, creating a solid and powerful production. I felt this was impressive, and I also loved that this simplicity reinforced the themes of the show. Imagination is needed to see the world as the characters do. I felt encouraged to look for the wonder all around me, and to take the time to see the world through a child’s eyes. I was reminded to treasure the Earth’s beauty, the love I have felt, and the unique experiences I have had. I enjoyed every minute of The Little Prince, and I am still thinking about what I gained from viewing it. Sackerson’s The Little Prince is truly beautiful, and few shows are this enchanting for adults and children alike. I encourage everyone to see it while you have this opportunity.
Full disclosure: The director of this production (Dave Mortensen) is the founder of Utah Theatre Bloggers Association and a member of its board of directors. As a board member he is in charge solely of the technical functioning of the web site. Mr. Mortensen had no involvement with the writing or editing of this piece. Honest criticism was encouraged.